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India bans rally by Hindu extremists

A PROPOSED rally by 2 million Hindu militants near the Indian parliament in New Delhi was banned yesterday as 'inherently dangerous' by the Congress government of the Prime Minister, Narasimha Rao. But the protest rally's organisers, the right-wing Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), vowed to defy the ban.

With India still reeling from widespread riots between Hindus and Muslims over the past two months, Mr Rao's government viewed the arrival in Delhi of hordes of Hindu extremists on 25 February as an impending nightmare. Justifying the prohibition, the Home Minister, S B Chavan, said he doubted the rally would be peaceful. 'The government is convinced that this is the time to look forward, to try to heal, and not reopen the wounds of the past, to reconcile faith with reason,' he said. 'This is just not the time for provocative actions.'

The BJP is staging the protest rally to demand the Prime Minister's dismissal and call for immediate elections. The rally poses overwhelming security risks. The throngs of Hindu extremists will pour into Delhi at the train station and the bus depot, which are both near the old walled city, heavily populated by Muslims. There are 13 mosques within a small radius of the parliament building, and these shrines could be targeted by Hindu zealots, authorities said.

The destruction of a Muslim shrine in Ayodhya on 6 December unleashed a wave of religious violence across India that left more than 2,000 dead. The Home Minister said the security forces would take 'necessary, appropriate action' to stop the extremists from descending on New Delhi.

Mr Rao denied he was seeking a showdown with Hindu fundamentalists by banning the rally, but such a confrontation now seems inevitable. BJP leaders are holding an emergency meeting in New Delhi today, where they are expected to challenge the government ban in court. A BJP vice-president, K R Malkani, described the government's action as 'a crude attack on a primary democratic right'. He said: 'We reject the ban order. The rally is on.'

Increasingly, parliament is being ignored in the rough-and-tumble game of Indian politics. The Prime Minister in December dismissed the BJP governments in four states on flimsy pretexts.

Mr Rao also banned all Muslim and Hindu extremist groups and kept three BJP leaders in jail for more than a month. The BJP and its more extremist Hindu allies struck back with strikes and protest marches, which fanned the flames of communal hatred.